With the bad comes the good as they say and this could prove true as far as the coronavirus pandemic and Bangladesh's e-commerce industry is concerned.
The outbreak of the highly contagious, lethal pathogen has created new opportunities for the country's e-commerce market, according to various speakers at an online discussion styled, 'E-commerce calls in the service of humanity', held yesterday.
"While it was unthinkable just one month ago, people now visit different sites for groceries and other essentials," said Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi who joined in the virtual discussion organised by the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB).
Since people currently find it challenging to participate in traditional commerce, this is an opportunity for the digital segment to thrive, he added.
However, during the discussion, a good number of e-commerce entrepreneurs raised concerns about the harassment of delivery personnel in the hands of law enforcers being out and about amidst the movement control order even though they have the government approval to continue operations.
In response, the commerce minister said the government is working on ways to remove all the obstacles e-commerce entrepreneurs are facing.
"We hope that this issue will be resolved within the next couple of days. The ministry will always stand by and support the online commerce industry," Munshi added.
After the coronavirus juggernaut reached Bangladesh people's perception of e-commerce changed totally, said Anir Chowdhury, policy adviser of the a2i programme under the Information and Communication Technology division.
Bangladesh is a huge market, so entrepreneurs should ideally have the capacity to cater to 50 lakh orders daily. However, they can currently only manage 50,000.
"Things started changing ever since the coronavirus dealt a blow to the economy. However, this has gone in favour of the e-commerce industry," Chowdhury said.
Since the nationwide shutdown took effect officially on March 26 with the hope of flattening the curve on the novel virus that has so far infected 164 and killed 17 in Bangladesh, the majority of the rickshaw pullers, who tend to live from hand to mouth, have seen their livelihoods disappear into thin air.
Online businesses can hire those rickshaw pullers as deliverymen and it will benefit both parties, Chowdhury added.
However, Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar emphasised on the need to ensure that only quality products are being sold. He is also in favour of christening April 7 the National E-Commerce day from next year onwards if e-CAB places a request.
Bangladesh's online business industry is already worth Tk 8,000 crore and has been growing at about 50 per cent annually, said e-CAB President Shomi Kaiser.
"We expect that after the coronavirus pandemic is over, the industry's growth rate will be much higher than what it was in the past few years," she added.
ICT Secretary NM Zeaul Alam; Postal Division Director General SS Bhadra; and Nazrul Islam Khan, advisor to e-CAB, also spoke during the session that was moderated by e-CAB General Secretary Muhammad Abdul Wahed Tomal.
At the event, e-CAB announced the formation of a charity to help the less fortunate through this difficult time. Anyone can contribute to the fund at its online portal, manobsheba.com.